Attracting Young, Christian Talent
Generation Z, or Gen Z, is the next generation of new employees about to enter the workforce. Once they do, experts expect this generation will account for 1 in 5 workers.
Is your organization prepared to attract good talent – especially young, Christian talent – and welcome this new generation onto your team?
- Characteristics of Gen Z include: born between 1997 and 2012, digital natives, racially and ethnically diverse, highly educated, and motivated by a search for truth.
- The pool of eligible Christian Gen Z talent is getting smaller and smaller – 42% of Gen Z claims to be Christian.
- Gen Z is looking for an employer who provides Life-Giving Work, flexibility and freedom, opportunities for growth, and authenticity and trust.
- Life-Giving Work: give Gen Z a place at the table and provide benefits that support their personal goals.
- Flexibility & Freedom: Gen Z expects flexible work options and wants to be trusted to fulfill their duties without being micromanaged.
- Opportunities for Growth: Gen Z doesn’t expect to stay in a job for very long; prove to this generation that your organization can provide a stable trajectory for growth.
- Authenticity & Trust: Gen Z can see right through the phonies and isn’t afraid to speak up when ethical practices are being violated.
Who is Gen Z?
Different from Millennials, Gen Z has only known a world with digital technology and came of age after the financial crisis of 2008. This generation will also have formative memories from the COVID-19 pandemic, many experiencing this crisis during their important adolescent years.
For the sake of this article, we’ll define Gen Z using the definition provided by Pew Research Center – individuals born between 1997 and 2012. According to this definition, the oldest Gen Z’ers are turning 23 this year, meaning some may already be on your team or will soon be applying for your open positions.
Members of this new generation are known as digital natives and are more racially and ethnically diverse than any other generation. They are also on track to be the most educated generation yet, with an estimated 57% enrolled in college in 2018 (compared to 52% of millennials in 2003).
McKinsey & Company concludes Gen Z is shaped by a search for truth – specifically, “expressing individual truth, connecting through different truths, understanding different truths, and unveiling the truths behind all things.” They value individuality but also diversity; they rally behind the causes they believe in and aren’t afraid to speak out (even when their opinions might rock the boat).
As business leaders, we need to start preparing for the impact of Gen Z. The new wave of applicants to entry-level positions will no longer be Millennials, but instead Gen Z’ers. Remember – the oldest Millennials are in their 40s now! Learning about Gen Z now will help in the long run as they begin to enter your workforce.
What About Young Christians?
More than any other generation, Gen Z is the least likely to claim themselves as “religious.” In fact, the number of Gen Z’ers who claim to be “atheists” is more than double that of the rest of the US population (13% vs 6%). According to 2018 Barna study:
- 42% of Gen Z claim to be Christian,
- 7% Catholic,
- 8% agnostic,
- 13% atheist,
- 7% other, and
- 14% none of these.
This is a lower percentage of self-proclaiming Christians than any other generation.
In the same way, when it comes to churchgoing teens, there is some hesitation around “the church.” Though the majority find the church as a “place to find answers to live a meaningful life,” 49% believe the church rejects the science of the world and 36% say the people at church are hypocritical.
There is a great degree of skepticism towards the church and faith in general for this generation. And, if the trend continues, we’ll see fewer and fewer young Christians. Of 18- to 29-year-old Christians and former Christians surveyed by Barna in 2018, 22% left the church after growing up Christian or being a Christian for a considerable amount of time.
The pool of eligible Gen Z Christians is small – so what can you do to attract this unique population?
What is Gen Z looking for in an employer?
Now that we have a better understanding of who Gen Z is, let’s take a look at what we expect this generation to look for in an employer.
We all want to feel valued at work and want to feel like our work has meaning. That’s why Life-Giving Work is one of our 8 Factors of a Flourishing Workplace. Like the generations before them, Gen Z wants to know their work has meaning.
Gen Z is passionate about social causes; they will look for jobs that align with their personal values. Not only do they want to find meaning, but they also want to be heard. Give your young employees a seat at the table from the start – don’t just view them as another cog in the corporate wheel but as a valued asset to your team.
Gen Z also views benefits as an aspect of work that makes it meaningful. And no, “benefits” probably isn’t what you’re thinking. For years, we provided benefits that resonated with “young people,” such as ping pong tables, casual Fridays, and free food. Not anymore. This generation is more future-focused than the generation before them. They are looking for benefits that support their personal goals, including paid family leave, competitive 401k options, student loan repayment, and tuition reimbursement, among others. Choose benefits that are appealing for the employee’s whole lifecycle, and be sure to highlight them in job descriptions and interviews.
Of course, an element of fun is always appreciated, but don’t expect the ping pong table to be the deal-maker for your future young employees. Additionally, remember that meaningful work breeds loyalty. Life-Giving Work must be an organizational priority if you want to attract (and retain) high-quality Gen Z talent.
Flexibility & Freedom
Gen Z is fluent in digital tools and extremely independent. They may view the traditional “office” as a place where supervisors micromanage and breathe down their necks. They want to be trusted to work on their own time, when and where they want. In fact, more than a third of Gen Z’ers say they, “won’t tolerate being forced to work when they don’t want to.”
You might be thinking, “That’s a pretty entitled perspective.” And maybe that’s true. But this generation watched their oldest siblings and parents stick around in jobs they hated, worked to the bone, for the sake of stability in the wake of the Great Recession. They don’t feel like they owe their employer anything.
When working with younger generations, Mark Heffentrager, Director of Eagle Lake Camps, mentions there is a degree of learning that must be embraced. His experience working with young employees, especially Gen Z, is extremely valuable.
For example, his team found, after coming back to the office after a long period of working remotely, that some team members thrived in a remote work setting. Though the fully remote model didn’t work for the culture they were trying to build, working from home during the pandemic provided structured opportunities to embrace flexibility. The option to work from a coffee shop, at home, etc. now offers an extra degree of freedom and independence to his team.
Gen Z expects flexible work options (especially in a post-pandemic world). Find a flexible work schedule that works for everyone – not just those at the top. It may be uncomfortable or foreign to you to let the reigns go and allow your employees to work from a coffee shop or at home a few days a week, but for Gen Z the idea is commonplace.
As Heffentrager mentions:
“I’m a guy in my late 40s. What I desire and what’s important to me, I’m learning, is not always the same as my young twenty-somethings. And so I want to listen to them and want to help them understand things that are important to me. But I also want to value some of the things that are important to them so they really feel like this is their workplace and not ‘this is Mark’s workplace that I just work in.’”
Generational differences will create some degree of conflict. How you address the conflict to promote a community workplace will make all the difference (listen to the full podcast with Mark Heffentrager here).
Opportunities for Growth
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers aged 55 to 64 is 10.1 years, while the median tenure of workers ages 25-34 is 2.8 years. Gen Z doesn’t expect to stick around for very long, so don’t be offended if your top talent leaves after only a few years because they are, “ready for a change of scenery.”
Though Gen Z craves stability, they are also unwilling to settle for anything less than the best. They aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, and they aren’t afraid to leave if it isn’t working out.
From a recruiting standpoint, this might seem like a major red flag. Why would you want to hire a fresh-out-of-college grad who is just going to leave in one or two years? It doesn’t sound ideal, and hiring is expensive, but your organization needs to bring in new talent in order to succeed. Your organization will not survive if you choose to ignore young talent because they are “flaky” or have a resume with a 1-2 year employment history.
Instead, focus on lowering the cost of your hiring process and identifying jobs that are ideal for young, entry-level candidates. If the employee feels the entry-level position is a fit, they might stay for something more long-term. If not, it’s not as expensive to fill that position in a few years.
At the same time, focus on retention. Young employees want to see the potential for growth upfront. If they feel like this entry-level position will trap them for the next five years, they aren’t likely to stick around. Invest in your young employees by providing mentorship, opportunities to refine their skills through education, and job rotation. This will not only demonstrate your commitment to the employee as a person but also shed light on what their future at your organization could look like for them. Remember, Gen Z craves stability. Prove that the stability you offer is worth staying on your team.
Authenticity & Trust
Perhaps the most obvious differentiator between Gen Z and the generations before them is their search for truth and authenticity. In generations past, ethical behavior was associated with personal character. For Gen Z, ethics is concerned with people and the planet. This manifests itself in a deep desire to see diverse workplaces and genuine care for the environment.
Gen Z cares not only about what the inside of the organization looks like – are there women and people of color in leadership positions? Is there diversity of thought? – but also what the organization stands for – does the organization support their views on important social issues?
This is going to be a challenge for Christian organizations, as young Christians tend to lean more liberally on important social issues than older Christians. However, differences in thought are not always bad. What Gen Z primarily cares about is if actions line up with words.
Gen Z can see right through the phonies. Their childhood has been shaped by skepticism, rhetoric around fake news, and a general distrust of the Church. Even if they don’t agree with your stance, they want to at least feel like their opinion has value. They want humble leaders who are truly humble – not just leaders who say they are humble.
When attracting young Christian talent, authenticity is crucial. You might be tempted to craft a perfect environment for the interview process that showcases all your best qualities, but once the rose-colored glasses come off, Gen Z will see right through the facade. Authenticity and trust mean addressing the hard issues head-on, not ignoring the elephant in the room.
If you want to attract good talent, now is the time to start cleaning things out from under the rug. You will not be able to retain young Christian talent if you continue to ignore the deeply rooted issues in your organization. Surveying is a great way to get a baseline of where your organization is so that you can make an informed plan for the future.
If they haven’t already, Gen Z is about to enter your company’s workforce. This generation is hungry to make a change in the world, to learn and contribute to your organizational goals and mission, and to find purpose in their work. They are not afraid to speak up for what they believe in and have the potential to shake things up.
As Christian leaders, we must be prepared to welcome this new generation into our teams. We have to understand who they are so that we can create workspaces that cultivate growth and utilize the gifts and talents of each individual.
The time to prepare is now. Gen Z has the potential to be highly valuable to your organization – are you ready?
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